July 31, 2009
Catholic aid agency Caritas Aotearoa NZ is backing a “Yes” vote in the upcoming smacking referendum, but acknowledges people could, in good conscience, vote either way.
A citizens initiated referendum on the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” runs from July 31 to August 21. The result is not binding.
The referendum came about after a 390,000-signature petition last year.
The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 allows reasonable force to be used for limited reasons, but not for correction. The act removed a wide-ranging defence of reasonable force.
A parliamentary compromise in 2007 saw police given discretion not to prosecute where the force used is inconsequential.
Caritas believes the law is therefore a good balance between child protection and the rights of families to make decisions for themselves without undue government interference, often described as subsidiarity.
This is in line with Catholic social teaching and prevents unnecessary prosecutions, Caritas said in statement.
The bishops’ conference also sought a balanced solution in their 2007 statement “Children are Precious Gifts”.
Because the referendum is seen politically as a vote of support for or opposition to the current law, Caritas recommends a “Yes” vote.
Director Mike Smith said the referendum question will not give a clear answer about child discipline because a person could support the 2007 compromise while voting either way.
Thus the “ambiguous” question means “many New Zealanders who support efforts to reduce violence against children may, in good conscience, still feel obliged to vote ‘No'”.
Caritas called for more parental education and believes referendum funding could have been better used this way.
A police activity review showed that there were no prosecutions brought for child assault which involved smacking between October and April.
Out of 279 “child assault events” attended, 39 involved minor acts of physical discipline and eight involved smacking. Police prosecuted four of the former and none of the latter.